with Paulina Firozi


Late last week the Trump administration announced an offshore energy plan that would open almost all waters on the U.S continental shelf to drilling for natural gas and oil.

Given the scope of the proposal -- with nearly all U.S. waters proposed for leasing and exploration --  the economic windfall may be widespread among coastal states with reserves. The environmental risk, too, of a ruinous oil spill would also span the coasts, from Washington state to California and from Maine to Texas.

Perhaps nowhere is the political fallout more concentrated, however, than in Florida. With Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson up for reelection in just 10 months, offshore oil is poised to become a topic of debate and division between the incumbent and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to try to unseat him.

Nelson and Scott both oppose the offshore drilling proposal, but other environmental rifts could play a big part in who wins the competitive Senate battle in a state President Trump won by just a 1.2 percent margin. While Nelson maneuvers in the Senate to try to stymie Trump's energy agenda, some observers see Scott's sudden leftward lean on the environment  as suspect during an election year.

Wedged between the North Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, like other Gulf states, saw crude oil that gushed from the exploded Deepwater Horizon well wash ashore in 2010 and drive away tourists.

But unlike other Gulf states such as Louisiana and Texas, whose economies rely on the oil and gas industry, Florida has its bread buttered by tourism. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tourism and recreation are the largest employers among Florida’s ocean-dependent economic sectors, which include offshore mineral extraction. Florida beach tourism generates nearly $50 billion and a half-million jobs annually, according to a Florida Atlantic University report.

“If there is one thing that unites Floridians, it’s that we value our beaches and coastal waters,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. “The president is going to have a fight on his hands here in Florida.”

Opposition in Florida to offshore drilling appears to have grown after the Deepwater Horizon spill. In 2014, 44 percent of Florida residents supported allowing offshore drilling for oil and gas, while 39 percent opposed drilling, according to polling done by the University of South Florida and Nielsen. 

Two years later, those percentages have flipped, with 47 percent opposed to drilling and 32 percent supporting it.

As such, most elected officials in Florida, including Scott and Nelson, issued competing statements in opposition to the Trump administration’s offshore proposal.

“This plan is an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment,” Nelson said. “This proposal defies all common sense and I will do everything I can to defeat it.”

Similarly, Scott said he opposed the plan and asked for a meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to discuss it. “My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected,” Scott said.

“Nothing is final,” Zinke said during a news conference about the plan.

Ahead of his likely run for Nelson’s seat, Scott proposed in October to increase spending on natural resources and environmental programs by $220 million, with the extra money helping to fund the restoration of the Everglades and the repair of a dike around Lake Okeechobee, the dilapidation of which contributed last year to a toxic algae bloom along the state’s Treasure Coast north of Miami.

Some Democrats, including Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D), who is seeking to replace Scott as governor, responded by labeling the governor an “election-year environmentalist.”

Scott faces the same problem many Republicans before him have when positioning themselves as environmentally minded conservatives: No matter how far to the left he may stretch, his Democratic opponent will be able to stretch further. 

For example, late last year the Trump administration proposed removing some safety rules for offshore rigs put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill, including the elimination of a requirement that safety and pollution prevention equipment be inspected by independent auditors. 

Nelson responded furiously last week, threatening to try to block the rollback by invoking a procedural rule. “The BP spill devastated my state's economy and 11 people lost their lives,” Nelson said.

Meanwhile, the Scott administration is still considering how to respond. “We are reviewing these rules,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said by email, “but Florida is home to pristine beaches that welcome millions of visitors each year, and the Governor does not support offshore drilling which could put that at risk.”

So far, the White House has given Scott room to distance himself from the president on the offshore plan. “Our goal certainly isn’t to cross Gov. Scott,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters last week. “We have a great relationship with him. We’re going to continue to work with him on a number of issues. Just because we may differ from time to time doesn't mean that we can’t still have an incredibly strong and good relationship.”

Still, the offshore plan gives Nelson with a unpopular environmental proposal to tether to Scott, whom Trump wants to see run for the Senate, as Democrats try to cling to every Senate seat they have in order to win back the chamber.

The perception of Scott as an environmentalist only when up for election is compounded by his positions on perhaps the biggest environmental issue facing low-lying Florida: climate change.

Last year, Scott signed legislation allowing any citizen to challenge textbooks and instructional materials, including those that teach the science of global warming. His administration has reportedly maintained an unwritten policy of discouraging state employees from using the phrase “climate change” in communications, an allegation Scott's office has denied.

But most seriously of all, environmental critics say, his administration has left cities such as Miami and Tampa ill prepared for rising seas and stronger storms, such as those during the intense 2017 hurricane season. 

“One of the things he’s tried to do is repaint himself as an environmental governor,” said Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection who now runs the Florida field office for the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “Which is really quite amusing.”


— Pruitt's next step: Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has reportedly told associates he would be willing to take on the role of attorney general, should the job become available, Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer A. Dlouhy of Bloomberg News report. Pruitt’s conversations come amid a resurgence of speculation surrounding the fate of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. An EPA spokesman denied the reports, per Bloomberg, and insisted Pruitt is focused on his role at the EPA.

In an October interview with Bloomberg, Pruitt insisted on his commitment to the agency, responding to reports he was considering a run for an Oklahoma Senate seat. “I am here because I really feel called to it,” Pruitt said in October. “You do what’s before you, you do the best work you can, you bless the president — I really serve to bless him and his process and help him form decisions and lead with direction here — and then you see what opportunities present themselves in the future on how to better the agenda overall."

— EPA moves on Clean Power Plan replacement: Staffers in the Trump administration are working to devise a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan by the end of this year, Politico reports. It’s a shorter time frame than the EPA usually uses to develop major regulations, however.

“EPA's air chief, Bill Wehrum, has directed staffers to develop a schedule for conducting analysis, public hearings and revisions that would be completed in 2018. Staff would need to complete a proposal by summer and allow time for the White House to review it before publication,” Politico’s Emily Holden reports. “The tight timeline would mean that the agency would have to repeal and replace the Obama power-sector climate rule simultaneously but in separate processes. EPA would also have to finish revising a separate carbon rule for future fossil fuel plants, which must be in place in order to regulate existing generators.” 

— A road to somewhere in Alaska: The Interior Department has authorized a controversial plan to allow a road to be built through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, The Post's Juliet Eilperin reported over the weekend. The move permits a 12-mile road providing residents of King Cove access to a nearby airport and will connect the village to the larger town Cold Bay.

Eilperin writes: “The Interior Department has approved a land swap deal that will allow a remote Alaskan village to construct a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, according to local officials. The action effectively overrules wilderness protections that have kept the area off limits to vehicles for decades. The land exchange, which has been agreed to but not formally signed, sets in motion a process that would improve King Cove’s access to the closest regional airport.” 

— A 'familiar face' joins the administration: P. Daniel Smith, a former National Park Service official who helped Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder cut down more than 130 trees to improve a river view from his Maryland estate, has been tapped to join the administration as one of the Park Service’s agency’s highest-ranking leaders.

Smith is expected to replace acting director Mike Reynolds Monday, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. “We have a new political appointee,” Lori K. Mashburn, Interior’s White House liaison, announced in the email obtained by The Post. “Dan should be a familiar face at NPS. He most recently served as Superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park.”

— How do natural disasters affect the nation’s most toxic sites? That's a question the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is planning to study. BuzzFeed’s Zahra Hirji reports the GAO told a group of Democratic senators of their plan to assess how natural disasters and climate change affect Superfund sites, responding to the senators' request made after a series of historic hurricanes battered the United States and Caribbean territories last year.

The watchdog ““will be conducting a review on Superfund sites and natural disasters/climate change,” J. Alfredo Gomez, a director in natural resources and environment at the GAO, told BuzzFeed. The request was made by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who was joined by eight other Democratic senators along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt).

— Work to remove Superfund sites from list done years ago: Meanwhile, the EPA has been boasting of its work to remove seven sites from the Superfund list, but the Associated Press found most of the physical work was completed before President Trump took office.

Records reveal that construction work at the seven sites touted by Pruitt last week was completed years ago. The agency announced plans to remove four of the seven sites from the list in 2016. “Cleanups of Superfund sites usually take decades, spanning presidential administrations,” the AP reports. “An analysis of EPA records by The Associated Press shows that overall the seven Superfund sites delisted last year fell short of the average pace set under both the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, even in their opening years.”

Several states were trapped in a powerful snowstorm Jan. 4. (Reuters)

— Another historic weather event in the books: The frigid cold along the East Coast last week broke temperature records from Maine to West Virginia, the Associated Press reported. The temperature in Burlington, Vt. fell to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, beating a record from 1923 by a single degree. In Portland, Maine, the temperature dropped to -11, breaking a 1941 record again by a single degree. Boston’s temperature of -2 tied a record low from 1896. There were also record lows elsewhere, including in Worcester, Mass., Hartford, Conn., Providence, R.I. 

Residents of Winthrop, Mass., a suburban community outside of Boston, began to clear the streets of snow on Jan. 5 after a powerful winter storm. (Melissa Macaya/The Washington Post)

— How about that "bomb cyclone?" Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow breaks down last week’s weather event by the numbers. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Tallahassee saw its first snow in 28 years, with a total of .1 inches.
  • Charleston, S.C. saw its third snowiest day on record, with 5.3 inches.
  • Boston broke a record for the highest ever tide, breaking a previous high reached during the 1978 blizzard.

Read more of the crazy numbers in Samenow’s report here.

But some reprieve from the cold is on its way. Temperatures are on the rise starting on Monday. Samenow reports in Washington, D.C. the weather pattern is flipping, and “the jet stream, which has plunged over the East allowing Arctic cold to spill south along its path, will seesaw, allowing mild air from the southwest to surge north.”

Here's a stunning image of the capital from over the weekend via Bloomberg's Lydia Beyoud: 

Here's a timelapse of the "bomb cyclone" from the National Weather Service: 

And another from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

— One major consequence of the extreme cold: Many low-income residents are struggling to pay for high heating bills. The Post’s Katie Zezima writes the cold is especially hard on people “who have fixed incomes or live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford higher than normal utility bills.” Reporting from Milton, Vt., Zezima writes: “Even with low-income heating assistance, weather like the stretch residents are enduring now has the capacity to throw the working poor over the financial edge. Heat must constantly be running to survive. Furnaces can break down. Fuel will run out more quickly than anticipated. The cold costs money.”

This year has been particularly problematic, especially for low-income and homeless people who live in states that don’t usually experience such cold, such as in Southern states. Advocates who provide federal and state fuel assistance reported so far that people have needed help earlier than usual.

— The long-term effects of a natural disaster: The Associated Press reports on the long-term emotional distress that can result from weather events like the recent spate of hurricanes. Grief, depression or fear of storms can linger long after the event. Jamie Stengle says that months after the storm, new patients have continued to go to free counseling offered by private and government-funded programs.

Hurricane survivors first experience “the survival-focused ‘heroic’ phase, when people are responding with high intensity, helping others to survive or being rescued,” the AP reports, citing Judith Andrews, a psychologist who co-chairs the Texas Psychological Association’s disaster resource network.

Following the “heroic” phase comes the “honeymoon” phase for up to six months during which survivors have “feelings of solidarity and bonding from their shared experience.” The following “disillusionment” phase can include anger, resentment, feelings of isolation and abandonment as survivors struggle to rebuild. Finally a “reconstruction” phase, which can last years, allows victims to begin to accept things will no longer be the same. 



  • The Wilson Center Asia Program holds an event featuring Lawrence H. Summers for “The Asian Financial Crisis, 20 Years On”

Coming Up

  • The American Petroleum Institute holds a luncheon and press conference on "The State of American Energy 2018” on Tuesday. 
  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds a discussion on political appointment process in the energy and environmental fields on Tuesday. 
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on "DOE Modernization: Advancing DOE's National, Economic, and Energy Security of the United States” on Tuesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a hearing on hearing on the "Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act” on Tuesday.
  • The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy holds a “Better Buildings peer exchange call to discuss what’s on the horizon for residential energy efficiency in 2018” on Thursday. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a discussion with former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday. 
  • Politico holds an event on "Driverless Cars and the Future of Mobility" on Jan. 16.
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center hosts FERC commissioners Neil Chatterjee and Cheryl LaFleur for a discussion on the proposed Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule on Jan. 16.
  • The United States Energy Association holds the 14th Annual State of the Energy Industry Forum.
  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds its 6th annual Lunch & Learn event to decide what topics to cover in 2018 on Jan. 23.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on Canada’s energy future on Jan. 23. 

Watch a Boston-area man kites surf through the snow: 

A Boston-area man appeared to be having the time of his life on Jan. 5, taking advantage of the recent snowfall to catch some air and kitesurfing in the frigid (Reuters)

Watch a violinist play for a crowd of travelers during delays at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport 

A violinist played to crowds of travelers at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Jan. 5, amid continuing delays following a snowstorm in the North East. (Instagram/jannorman)